Every industry has buzzwords, and the technology sector is undoubtedly the worst. It’s just part of how people are, especially when marketing gets involved. People know that customers are looking for a particular concept and we glom on to the word that ties into that concept. We then overuse it to the point that it ceases to have any meaning. There are many such words in the AV industry, but the worst offender is “collaboration.” I’ve complained about it before, but today I’m going to show you an example of how the industry has been vague and unhelpful when it comes to explaining collaboration. I also have some practical tips from some collaboration experts here at HARMAN that will help you actually bring about collaboration in your company.

When you overuse a term like collaboration, the resulting meaningless buzzword—which I term “#Collaboration”—becomes a useless marketing tool and an inherent overpromise that technology manufacturers can never hope to deliver. Take this recent post in CIO Magazine as a prime example. The article, titled “Collaboration Trumps Cooperation,” is designed to help Information Technology executives increase collaboration and, by extension, productivity. However, in the end we’re left with ill-defined terms, a couple paragraphs of flowery proclamations of the benefits of said vague terms, and then some generic management advice without any practical tips.

Trying to separate interrelated concepts of “cooperation” and “collaboration” is not helpful if you don’t take time to actually define them and show when each is helpful and beneficial (because cooperation and collaboration are both necessary and often happen at the same time). And tips like “find pockets of great collaboration, then enlist these collaborators to seed collaboration elsewhere” isn’t helpful advice. How do I actually accomplish that?

In order to answer that question, I went to some collaboration experts in various roles within HARMAN Professional Solutions. The first person I consulted was Jeff Scott, Sr. Sales Engineer and an expert on helping customers with collaboration solutions. This is what Jeff had to say about collaboration:

When I think of collaboration, I don’t know if technology is really an answer in itself, because it is a reflection of human behavior. Technology can help bridge a logistical gap such as distance or the need to get a PowerPoint on the screen, but it is management and intentional leadership that creates collaboration.

For collaboration to work, you have to give everyone a voice, from the meekest to the boldest, and sometimes, that literally means going ‘round robin’ around the group, asking for everyone’s input. Technology can allow the entire team to be heard, especially if part of the team is remote; it provides a better connection to the entire team. But, like any connection, it’s only as good as how you use it.

This is great advice from Jeff. I love the suggestion of going “round robin” to encourage the more quiet people to speak. Meetings tend to be dominated by those that are the most outspoken or comfortable with crowds. By eliciting advice from those that are perhaps not as comfortable speaking, you get more well-rounded input. As well, those that aren’t speaking often are listening more closely and thinking more deeply, and thus may have valuable ideas that they might not be comfortable volunteering if not asked. This is the real power of collaboration in action.

So how else can we encourage collaboration—and how does technology come into play? For that question, I reached out to Paul Zielie, Solutions Manager for Corporate, Education and Government. Paul is a technology expert and has worked with customers for a number of years. Paul agreed with Jeff that the effectiveness of the technology within an organization really is an extension of the effectiveness of the planning, and he said that to maximize the benefits, everyone needs to communicate and be on the same page regarding goals early in the process:

I always try to get clarification on exactly what the intended use is when I hear the term ‘collaboration” from a customer. It is a bit subjective, and depending on what they mean, there could be a range of solutions. My feelings on the term collaboration is that it always implies interaction. A videoconference is collaborative because the parties are talking, but showing a PowerPoint (screen sharing) is not a collaborative feature. Technology comes into play in both scenarios, but it is the capability for interaction that is the collaborative feature.

Examples of technology I could consider collaborative include tools to help people share a document that both parties can edit or provide the capability for multiple people to share and present content during the same meeting or discussion. Presentation technology can facilitate collaborative dialogue in the room, but these are very different technologies. If the customer and I have different interpretations of what defines “collaboration” within a space, the solution may suffer.

As Paul indicates, it is vital to be sure that everyone understands what you want to accomplish with a technology build before you start. Of course, in order to do that, you need to have a good understanding of how to encourage collaboration within an organization in the first place. To get some advice on that point, I reached out to Steve Byars, Sr. Director of Administration here at HARMAN Professional Solutions. Steve had some really great advice:

Creating an environment that encourages creative and open “out of the box” thinking is critical to the concept of effective collaboration in any organization—especially organizations that want to be leaders. Expecting and cultivating a high caliber of talent in an organization is the first key to creating a culture of collaboration. High-potential employees with the drive to deliver results beyond his/her defined job description in order to drive success are essential for collaboration that can redefine a company, an industry and sometimes the world.

These exceptional employees must take responsibility for creating the type of company where they want to work together to create solutions with experiences that attract loyal and enthusiastic customers. All barriers to creativity and collaboration must be immediately identified and eliminated any time they begin to exist or even appear to exist.

All ideas and questions must be encouraged. Organizational hierarchy often interferes with this open environment that encourages exceptional employee engagement and should be invisible or minimal.  It takes more than just claiming to be a “collaborative” company. Senior leaders must create an environment that expects only exceptional employees and rewards risk-taking along with accountability for results while continuously supporting teams working together to develop innovative solutions to real problems in the workplace.

Success and even some failures must be recognized and celebrated. Timely recognition of effective collaboration and exceptional work should be the norm. Celebrating even the smallest successes from collaboration encourages this behavior to continue and establishes a culture that embraces effective collaboration.

A culture void of collaboration will never reach the levels of success of an organization that works as a team to develop new and different ideas.

This is wonderful guidance from Steve and goes to show how collaboration only happens when the administration is committed to it happening. Simply buying new technology won’t make it happen, because technology can only facilitate what happens between employees. The organization itself must ultimately create an environment and culture where collaboration happens.

Automation can get meetings started faster. Good meeting room audio can make sure everyone is heard clearly. Video distribution and content sharing tools can help employees present information and convey varying ideas. However, at the end of the day, the most important collaboration tool is still an empowered team of employees.

Do you have any tips for encouraging collaboration? Share them in the comments.

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